When high school students tour Yale, a strong connection with the tour guide — who is seen as the face of the University — can make all the difference in distinguishing Yale from the multitudes of colleges they visit.
At issue, however, is whether that tour guide’s ethnicity influences prospective applicants’ perceptions of the University.
Two years of efforts by the Yale University Tour Guide program to diversify its ranks, in response to concerns that tour guides have been disproportionately Caucasian, have met with some success, said Liz Kinsley ’05, the admissions office’s director of outreach and recruitment. At the same time, tour guides and prospective applicants alike have questioned whether a more ethnically diverse group of tour guides actually matters to those on the tours.
“The 16 new guides certainly bring a wider range of backgrounds than we’ve seen in past years,” said Kinsley, though she did not provide any data as evidence.
In 2007, a new question asking for the applicant’s “background” was added to the tour guide application, and the Yale Visitor’s Center made an effort to recruit tour guides through e-mails to the cultural houses and to freshmen.
About half a dozen current students and prospective applicants questioned in interviews how much importance should be placed on tour guide diversity. Similar academic or extracurricular interests were more interesting to them in a tour guide than cultural background, they said.
“So long as they’re effective, it doesn’t matter,” said one prospective applicant from Dallas, Texas, during an admissions tour on Thursday morning. “But I was glad [the tour guide] is in economics.”
As a prospective economics major, she said, this was a major plus for Yale. Princeton University, however, might still be her first choice.
Three potential applicants pointed out that the background of the tour guide is not necessarily the best indicator of a school’s diversity.
“When you come on these college tours, you know you’re only going to see one or two people,” said another prospective student, Caroline Hedberg, who was also on Thursday’s tour. “So you don’t really get the complete picture anyway.”
Alice Lee, a high school senior from California who took the Yale tour last April and is applying regular decision to Yale this year, said the University’s diverse student body came through regardless of the background of the individual tour guide.
On Lee’s tour, the tour guide stopped frequently to greet a range of students, Lee said, showcasing the diversity of the school.
For some tour guides, connections with applicants are forged on factors other than common background.
“I don’t think it makes any difference what the ethnicity of the tour guide is or if that adds anything to the experience of the potential applicants on the tour,” said tour guide Jasper Wang ’10. “I think that the applicant pool is smart enough to know that this is just one person.”
Having a range of academic interests, Wang added, trumps diversity in forging a bond.
But some Yale students say that for some potential applicants, tour guide diversity can be a significant factor.
“I’m sure Yale would be more relatable to [minority applicants] with someone from a similar background,” said Kevin Beckford ’11, a member of the Black Student Alliance at Yale.
Still, Beckford noted, cultural background is only one part of the interaction between a tour guide and visitors.
“The tour guide that I had was from a completely different background from me,” Beckford said. “But he was very friendly, very welcoming, and I was able to relate to him regardless of that.”
This year’s freshman class is a more economically diverse group than previous classes. In the class of 2012, 12.3 percent of students have qualified for Pell grants, compared to 10.8 percent in the class of 2011 and 9.4 percent in the class of 2010.
—Vivian Yee contributed reporting.